Chef’s incredible journey from violence in Colombia to Hatfield

WHEN Diego Grenada, head chef of Beales Hotel in Hatfield, launched his new spring menu on radio, few listeners could have been aware of the incredible personal journey that has taken the 33-year-old to the top of his game.

Colombia-born Diego recently revealed the Comet Way hotel’s new spring menu live on BBC Three Counties radio, including seared scallops, chicken and smoked bacon ballotine, white chocolate mousse with a berry milkshake and citrus biscotti.

It’s the sort of sophisticated cuisine that has become Diego’s trademark – but it is a far cry from the life he left behind in his home country 14 years ago.

In 1997, Diego fled to Britain following the deaths of his two older brothers, Carlos and Cesar, who were both murdered by the Colombian Mafia.

“My brothers worked in politics,” said Diego. “Obviously it was very bad.

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“The Mafia wanted to involve the country in a war, and there were a lot of politicians being killed.

“My brothers were both killed, and that’s why I left.”

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And so it was that at the age of just 19, Diego gave up his university degree in graphic design and travelled to London, armed with little more than a backpack and an inability to speak English.

“The first six months of my life here were very difficult,” said Diego.

“I didn’t know anyone, and I didn’t know the language. But you’ve got to learn in life to try to turn it into something positive.”

He took a job as a restaurant kitchen porter – and his interest in catering suddenly sparked.

“When you work in graphic design, you need to be quite artistic, and there were these nice pastries and desserts that were very well designed,” Diego said.

Diego took jobs in London, Essex and Manchester, honing his skills and climbing the cookery ladder, until finally becoming Beales’ head chef three years ago.

Today, Diego lives in Arlesey with his wife Clare and six-year-old stepdaughter Alissa. And thanks to the internet, he’s able to keep in touch with the family he hasn’t seen in 14 years – father Heraberto, sister Marebel and her young daughter.

“I always say to my friends that I will not change what my life has become,” said Diego.

“I’ve been lucky in that I’ve met a lot of nice people, and now with my wife and my little girl, my life is complete.”

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